So, you just sat down at a fancy restaurant and asked the waiter for a list of wine recommendations. The waiter lays out their connoisseur explanation of how the 2002 Champagne vintage was the best in a century, but to reconsider the 2013 Pinot Noirs. At this point, you’re thinking, why? What’s the difference? The short answer: Weather.
Multiple factors affect the taste of wine. Most of which are under the control of the wine producer, such as the fermentation time, type of storage (e.g., oak casket, cement vats), and fermentation temperature. If all aspects of wine production could be controlled, each year’s batch of wine would taste the same. But, obviously, that’s not the case, as our friendly waiter explained.
Weather affects the taste of wine differently each year. For example, in cooler climates, grapes tend to struggle in the ripening phase, which leads to pre-mature harvesting and thus results in higher levels of acidity and tart taste. Some folks may perceive the flavor as pleasant and refreshing, while others sour and harsh.
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During warm weather years, grapes often ripen quickly, which results in lower acidity levels, high sugar content, and dark color. Have you ever gotten wine stains on your teeth? This was likely a warm-weather batch. The high sugar content of these wines also leads to higher alcohol content. If you like full-bodied, soft, and fruity wines, this is your jam.
In addition to cold or warm weather seasons, drought can profoundly affect grape growing. Without proper irrigation, an issue that the famous vineyards of Napa and Sonoma, Calif, are facing, grapes cannot reach their full potential before harvesting. In extreme cases, they may not ripen at all, resulting in a missed harvest.
Going back to the Champagne versus Pinot Noir case, different grapes make for the best wine in specific climates. Some prefer to grow in dry, high-altitude, and warm climates, while others in wetter, cooler, and stable conditions. The short-term variations in weather can make or break it for growers each year.
If the type of grape they are harvesting did not benefit from the weather that year, you would not get a 2002 Champagne. Instead, you will get a 2013 Pinot Noir. Weather variations are what make winemaking challenging for producers and exciting for enthusiasts and sommeliers.